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maple syrup

The Best Bircher Muesli

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The Best Bircher Muesli

'Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ Samuel Johnson, The Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

If I were the type of person that leafed (ironically) through Cosmo, and stumbled across one of those lazy, page-filling content, tree diagrams which happened to ask “what is your spirit animal?”, I know what mine would be. A horse.  Well, at least that’s what it would have been during the second year of my time at university in terms of comestibles…

Essay crises necessitate fuel in order to feed the adrenaline and, for me, that fuel came in the form of oats.

When you have a 9 am deadline approaching, and there is only one hour remaining, every minute is precious - so there is no time to spare for cooking oats over the hob until they break down into a creamy mulch.

The Best Bircher Muesli

That’s the excuse I gave myself.  Instead, I developed the rather grotesque habit of eating oats straight from the packet, raw and desiccated. In my maddened and pressured state, I savoured the clagginess of the oats, where you can’t quite conjure up enough saliva to swallow them.  Ideal.

I have since moved on from this stage (with the very occasional relapse) to a more acceptable way of dealing with my love of oats: Bircher muesli, invented by Bircher Benner, a pioneer of raw foodism, in the late 19th century as a way of curing his jaundice.  It worked.

I feel, somewhat justifiably, that it runs in my blood (thick & creamy): my great-great-uncle was a frequent patient at Benner’s rather avant garde  Swiss raw food clinic and, one sunny day, he stepped down from a plane on an impromptu visit from Scotland to South Africa with no clothes besides the ones on his back, a vegetable juicing contraption which he trailed behind him on a rickety little cart, and a proselytising passion for Bircher muesli.

The Best Bircher Muesli

I have tried many a Bircher muesli, from Swiss versions to Vietnamese attempts, but I feel I have concocted the ultimate version (excuse my arrogance).  Creamy, healthy, juicy, and exotic, it’s effectively manna, and I would happily have it for every meal of the day (jaundiced or not).

The Best Bircher Muesli  (Serves 5)

Ingredients

2 Braeburn apples, grated

Juice of 1/2 lemon

200ml orange juice

200g natural yogurt

200g almond and coconut milk (can be substituted with dairy or non-dairy alternatives)

3 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you can’t get hold of this, omit it, or substitute with ½ tsp vanilla extract)

50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted in a pan on a low heat until pale gold)

200g porridge oats

Pinch of salt

200g of fresh fruit of your choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, sliced banana work well)

40g coconut chips (optional but adds great texture)

Method

  1. In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the fresh fruit and optional coconut chips. If you are making this the night before, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight to let the oats soak up the flavours.  If you are serving the muesli immediately, stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to break down the oats until they are creamy.
  2. If you are leaving the muesli overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Scatter mixed berries and fruits and coconut chips over the top and serve.

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza Pizza is in his DNA.  Five generations of golden, thin, crispiness. One recipe.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The pizza oven is raging, rapidly devouring its feed of dry wood and spitting out sweet nutty smoke.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

 

He comes every summer in his Ape brimming with plump mushrooms of dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A light sprinkle of flour on a wooden board, and he gets to work.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

With wrist flicks and little rotations the round becomes a disc, airborne momentarily to ensure evenness.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A careful spiral of passata with the back of a spoon,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

a shower of mozzarella,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

and a scattering of whatever’s in the garden: fiori di zucchini, melanzane, pepperoncini…

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The flurry of flour continues into the night.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The dinner table is a moderation-free zone.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He only stops when even the strictest of eaters has lost count of the number of pizzas (not slices) he/she has consumed, and physical incapacity is the only limitation.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He doesn’t even really stop there: a couple more are sent to the table per domani.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A pizza “hangover” ensues along with the inevitable promises of “never again” “not for another year”.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

But as soon as I hit London soil again I want to relieve that pizza-lover’s fantasy and so I make these.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

They’re crisp, thin, verdant, and fresh.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I don’t believe in barren crusts or meanness so the ingredients are abundant and go right up to and beyond the edge of the base.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I use spelt instead of plain flour (as usual) to reduce the GI level and add a nuttier more complex flavour to the dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The added bonus of this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick.  Kneading is kept to a minimum (5 minutes) and the rising time is the shortest you’ll ever find for pizza dough – ½ hour.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The balsamic-maple reduction is optional but I include it to add extra caramelised sweetness, extra tang and a touch of drama.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

Ingredients – makes 4 pizzas

Base

250ml warm water

3 tsp dried yeast (fast active yeast)

500g white spelt flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Topping

750g asparagus

30g garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/4 tsp salt

Grated zest of ½ lemon

A few grinds of Pepper

400g mozzarella (4 balls), chopped finely into cubes

100g parmesan, grated

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

2 red chillies (optional), finely sliced

 

2 large baking trays or 4 medium baking trays, greased and dusted with flour

 

Maple Balsamic Reduction (optional)

120ml balsamic vinegar

2 tsp maple syrup

 

Method

  1. Heat oven to 120˚C for 5 minutes then switch it off.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or large bowl if making by hand) pour in warm water and sprinkle yeast over it. Allow to stand for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
  3. Stir in flour, salt and oil. Knead by hand for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or in a machine fitted with a dough hook for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and when you press your thumb into it, it bounces back up.
  4. Divide dough into two and place each half in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and place in warmed oven.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled, then remove from oven and preheat it to its highest temperature, usually 250˚C.
  5. While the dough is rising, use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus: place the asparagus flat on a surface, and holding it at the woody end, shave it from above the woody end to the top of the spear. I sometimes use the ends to make a stock for asparagus risotto.
  6. Place the ribbons in a bowl and mix with garlic, oil, salt, lemon zest and pepper.
  7. Once risen, divide each half into two and roll out each quarter into a 0.5cm thick disc. Place on tray and scatter each disc with mozzarella, parmesan, and shaved asparagus.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
  8. Once baked, scatter with spring onions, chives, and chillies, if using. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

Maple Balsamic reduction

  1. Boil balsamic and maple syrup together over a high heat for about 5 minutes until it thickens slightly to consistency more like that of pure maple syrup. Allow to cool for 1 minute, and drizzle over pizzas.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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I wandered into my favourite greengrocer yesterday in search of inspiration, and came out laden with half the store.  Amongst the wooden crates I found the most beautifully vibrant baby carrots and blushing, freckled pomegranate orb.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Although lentils and carrots are usually associated with comfort and winter, I used fresh orange and pomegranate jewels to lift them to a lighter, more summery dish.

The carrots are poached in orange juice and maple syrup until juicy and softened and the liquid has reduced to a golden caramel.  They are then roasted until sticky, slightly charred and a little withered, but dense with succulence and depth of flavour. The caramel is turned into a citrusy dressing to drench the lentils, with the sweetness balanced with the salty kick of feta.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Ingredients

200g puy lentils

2 tsp vegetable bouillon stock

1 litre boiling water

400g baby carrots

Juice of 3 oranges (15 tbsp)

5 tbsp maple syrup

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

¼ tsp salt

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 oranges supremed (i.e. segmented with skin and membrane removed)

100g feta

140g pomegranate seeds (half a pomegranate)

20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place lentils, stock and boiling water in a pan over a high heat and allow to simmer with a lid on for 30-35 minutes until fully cooked. They should be soft and no longer chalky, but definitely not mushy.  Drain them, and set aside in a bowl to cool.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the carrots: pour the orange juice into a large frying pan over a medium high heat, add the maple syrup and salt, and stir to combine. Carefully arrange the carrots in the pan and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the liquid has reduced by about two thirds and become viscous and syrupy.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Preheat the grill to 230˚C. Remove the carrots from the frying pan (while preserving the syrup), arrange them on a baking tray and grill for 5 minutes (checking after 3 minutes) or until they are slightly charred.
  4. Into the pan with the remaining syrup, pour in the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, crushed garlic cloves and salt to make the dressing. Stir the mixture over a low heat until fully combined. Pour the warmed dressing over the bowl of lentils.
  5. To serve, carefully spoon the lentils and any non-absorbed dressing on to a platter, and scatter with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta. Arrange the orange segments and roasted carrots over the top, and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.
Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

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Wholesome American Style Spelt Pancakes (Dairy-free) - Recipe

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Wholesome American Style Spelt Pancakes (Dairy-free) - Recipe

Khanom krok, crepes, blinis, dosas, tortillas, msemmen, ingera, beghrir, and both pandan and rice  pancakes - dense, spongy, fluffy, light,...  I've devoured them all.  But when it gets to Sunday, and brunch is obligatory, I always revert to American-style pancakes.   I want to whisk up something quick, easy and delicious.

The internet is currently riddled with recipes for "sugarless, 2-ingredient protein pancakes".  Warning: two ingredients = egg and banana, and there are many things I'd rather eat than a banana omelette.  So I came up with my own healthier version of American-style pancakes using wholegrain spelt and coconut oil.

They're fluffy, light and filling, and the wholemeal spelt flour adds a warming nuttiness as well as lowering the overall GI level.  They're also really  addictive - the photos are of the fourth batch I made on the day (as the first batch were consumed as a solo act, and the second and third were inhaled by my brothers).

I paired them with a very simple mixed berry compote, the recipe for which is below.

Ingredients

Wholesome American Style Spelt Pancakes

340g wholemeal spelt flour (can be substituted with plain flour, wholemeal wheat or white spelt)

4 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 large eggs

450ml unsweetened almond milk (can be substituted with any other kind)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

45g coconut oil, melted + extra to coat frying pan (can be substituted with butter)

Berry Compote

500g mixed frozen berries

3 tbsp maple syrup (optional)

1tbsp vanilla extract

Method

Pancakes

1.) In a blender, blitz together all the ingredients until smooth.

2.) Place shallow frying pan over a medium-high heat and melt 1tbsp of coconut butter (or butter, if using), swirling it around to coat the pan.

3) Pour batter into pan to desired pancake size and cook for a couple of minutes until bubbles begin to break through the surface.  Flip, and cook for a further couple of minutes until golden.

Mixed Berry Compote

1.) Place pan over high heat, pour in all ingredients, and stir to mix through.

2.) When the berries have melted and the mixture begins to simmer, reduce to a low heat and cook until berries are completely cooked through.

3.) Drench pancakes.

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Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

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Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

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Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe Last year I spent a week in the middle of nowhere, in freezing cold, exercising over 6 hours a day in mud/gales/snow/hail,  under the supervision of ex-military trainers who pushed me physically beyond  my limits until every last droplet of sweat had been purged.  My fellow “bootcampers” included a fresh out of prison and rehab drug dealer/addict, a morbidly obese woman who refused to communicate with anyone, a creepy London shop owner, a z-list celebrity from a certain Chelsea based reality TV show, whose ego was undeservedly overblown, and some poor guy whose father had told him he was going on a spa retreat in Spain but despatched him instead into gruelling and bleak middle England.

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

 

Our diet was heavily regimented, too: no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, and nothing processed.  Despite its virtuousness, it was delicious - fresh, wholesome and innovative - all cooked by an ex-OXO Tower chef.  Admittedly, food is the first thing I think of when I wake up anyway, but this feeling became intensified at the camp, especially with a 6 o’clock alarm call, and two hours of torture before breakfast.   No, it wasn’t a prison camp: I did this out of choice.

 

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - RecipeVanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - RecipeVanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

It was one of the only occasions when getting chummy with the chef didn’t reap any edible perks.  I did , however, manage to glean the recipe for the breakfast highlight of the week: Bircher muesli.  It traditionally has a fluid consistency and is made the night before to allow the oats to become plump with apple juice and yoghurt.   This one breaks all the rules but is more delicious, healthier and a hundred times more convenient – most people (excluding me) spare little thought for breakfast, let alone prepare for it the night before.

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

This recipe is dairy-free and sugar-free simply because I think it’s delicious that way, but feel free to use dairy equivalents, and add some maple syrup if you’re that way inclined – it works equally well. It can also be made gluten-free  – just use the appropriate muesli brand.

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

 

Ingredients (serves 2)

Muesli

2 cups sugar-free muesli

1 Braeburn apple, grated and sprinkled with 1 tsp lemon juice (this will prevent it oxidising and going brown)

¼ tsp vanilla bean paste

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ cup coconut yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt)

3 tbsp coconut milk (or dairy)

2 tbsp apple juice

(1 tbsp maple syrup – optional)

 

Topping

¼ cup coconut yoghurt

100g raspberries

A handful of strawberries

2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until pale brown

 

 Method

  1. Stir together all topping ingredients. It should be of a thick consistency but feel free to add another splash of coconut milk if you prefer.  Leave for 10 minutes to allow the muesli to absorb the flavours.
  2. Top with yoghurt, and scatter with berries and flaked almonds. Drizzle with maple syrup if you like.

 

Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Bircher Muesli (Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Gluten-free) - Recipe

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

I’ve unfortunately inherited a trait from my maternal grandfather’s family.  If a type of food appealed particularly to her palate, my great aunt would go all out.  A slender and statuesque woman, she was known to devour eight-egg omelettes.  This was followed by an extended fast.  My grandfather had a particular penchant for icing: no cake was safe.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts 

My grandmother would often return home to find the once painstakingly iced cake denuded, perfectly, as if the precision of the stripping technique would make up for the action.  An entire crate of guavas went his way in one sitting, and his cupboard of chocolates had to be locked by him against himself.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Signs of this inherited characteristic were evident in me early on: for example, when I was seven, the target was a log of Chèvre which my mother had carelessly left unwrapped.  I gorged though the rind, through the crumbly outer ring, right to its buttery heart until the waxy wrapping lay completely bare.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

The Erysichthon gene (see below) is a curse, and one not to be made light of.  It strikes, making foods seem so ambrosial to the cursed that consuming them becomes his or her sole focus.

 

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

But with the pleasure comes pain, because with the claws of the curse firmly embedded, one is forced to keep eating until what was once a source of unparalleled edible pleasure becomes one’s nemesis.  The scent, sometimes the very thought, of the offending food makes bile rise in my throat.  The only cure is time.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

It has taken me fourteen years and one particularly outstanding meal to normalise my relationship with goat’s cheese.  I went to Rabbit (review to ensue shortly) which won me over with a beetroot crisp, topped with whipped goat’s cheese, honey comb and marjoram.  My knee-jerk reaction was to buy the recipe book of The Shed, Rabbit’s sister restaurant (on Amazon Prime - it was urgent).

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

With freshly unearthed enthusiasm for goat’s cheese, I pored over the book and found inspiration for this recipe.  It works wonderfully as a starter or cheese course.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

The pan frying makes the Chèvre golden and crisp on the outside, and gloriously molten on the inside.  The balsamic vinegar and maple syrup caramelise together to form a sweet and sharp treacle which cuts through the saltiness and creaminess of the Chèvre, while the toasted hazelnuts add warmth and texture, and the thyme just leaves you coming back for more…and more…and more…

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts        

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

Ovid’s tale of King Erysichthon portrays him hubristically killing a nymph of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. His punishment was insatiable hunger which resulted in exhausting the wealth of his kingdom, selling his own daughter in exchange for food, and eventually devouring himself.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for me. Click here for the whole tale, one of the best in the Metamorphoses (line 741-887).

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts   

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts                  

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients

300g log of Chevre goat’s cheese

2/3 tbsp Rapeseed oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a medium-sized non-stick frying pan)

100g hazelnuts (blanched if possible)

180ml balsamic vinegar

120ml maple syrup

60g unsalted butter

½ tsp salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme + 3 to sprinkle + 6 to serve

Serves 6 as a starter or cheese course

Method

  1. Preheat an oven to 200˚C. Gently crush the hazelnuts into halves either in a pestle and mortar or place in a bag and whack with a rolling pin.
  2. Place crushed hazelnuts on a baking tray and allow them to toast in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden.
  3. Set a small pan over a high heat and pour in balsamic, maple syrup, butter, salt, the leaves of the 3 sprigs of thyme and the toasted hazelnuts. Once it begins to boil reduce heat to a low temperature and allow to simmer while you cook the goat’s cheese.
  4. Place a medium sized non-stick frying pan over a high heat and pour in the rapeseed oil and allow it to heat for half a minute. Cut off the rind covered ends of the goat’s cheese and slice the log into 12 discs. Place these carefully into the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.  Remove from heat and place two slices on each plate to serve.
  5. After 5 minutes simmering, the sauce ingredients should now have emulsified and turned more viscose (it will thicken further as it begins to cool). If it hasn’t reached this stage, turn up the heat and stir until glossy.  Beware of over boiling it as it will turn to a jam like texture.  You can retrieve it from this stage by thinning it with a few drops of balsamic.
  6. Drizzle the warm sauce over the hot goat’s cheese. Sprinkle with the leaves of the other 3 sprigs of thyme and then place one whole sprig over each portion to decorate.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

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